OSLO, Norway—It seemed like the only thing Martin Fourcade had to do to win the World Championships sprint was not mess up.
With seven World Cup wins so far this season and many in dominating fashion, the French biathlete was the odds-on favorite. Yet when he crossed the finish line after shooting clean and skiing fast, he had a huge smile on his face, the smile of someone who was savoring a moment he hadn’t been sure would come.
Starting in bib eight, Fourcade first had to wait for the rest of the 102-man field to finish. Both the Norwegian and German teams started their best athletes towards the middle or end of the field, so it was a long wait.
“I can’t say I was confident,” Fourcade said in a post-race press conference. “I can say I was satisfied. I was satisfied because I did all I had on the track. I shot clean. I knew to would be a good result. But I needed to wait for all the athletes to cross the line and I knew it was a lot of possibilites to be beaten.”
In the end he won the 10-kilometer, ten-shot competition by a whopping 26.9 seconds over Ole Einar Bjørndalen of Norway. That’s the biggest margin of victory in a World Championships or Olympic Games sprint in over a decade.
And Fourcade seemed overjoyed. Because he has had other years where he seemed like the favorite for the sprint, but where he made errors. After all, this was his seventh World Championship title – it’s not like there has been a lack of opportunity, and he knows it.
“I’m just enjoying being a World Champion today,” he said in the press conference. “It’s the first time in the sprint since 2012 in Ruhpolding. I had a lot of chances to get this title in the past, and I missed. So I’m really satisfied today to do the biathlon that I was able to do.”
Behind him, Bjørndalen made an impressive comeback. The 42-year-old won a World Cup earlier this season and had other podiums, but not recently and he skipped the North American swing of the circuit in order to prepare for the Championships.
“[I have] absolutely not a tear about it,” Bjørndalen said in the press conference. “Martin was so strong today. Silver was like gold for me because it has been a long time since I was on the podium. Fourcade is at the moment the best athlete. He skied amazing, really fast, so he’s really hard to beat. Today I’m second so that’s perfect for me.”
As is true every time the biathlon legend wins, other competitors lauded his achievements over the years and marveled that he was still beating them.
“Ole Einar was my hero growing up,” Czech racer Ondrej Moravec told the press. “When I was like 14 years old I saw him in Anterselva and he signed my training log… I think this is great for him, because he put so much preparation into being ready for these Championships.”
Bjørndalen had considered retiring earlier, but when Oslo was awarded the World Championships decided to stick around.
Now there’s no doubt: the “king of biathlon” is not the weak link on the strong Norwegian team.
In fact, fans were joking about re-naming Bjørndalen not the king of biathlon, but the king of Norway.
With the real King, Harald V, sitting in the crowd, that got a little touchy.
“We have only one king in Norway,” Bjørndalen joked in the press conference. I do biathlon and he does the real king job.”
Fourcade may have only 45 World Cup wins to Bjørndalen’s 94, but the veteran Norwegian seemed ready to cede the crown to his French competitor.
“It was another time,” Bjørndalen said of the earlier 2000’s when he was racking up most of his wins. “A long time ago I dominated the sport. Now the level is much higher, there are many more athletes who have a really high level. Before there were not so many top athletes, but the top athletes were really strong. For me Martin is the best athlete because he can be the best in all competitions and I was mostly the best in some [specific] competitions. So he is really the best.”
In third place was Sergey Semenov of Ukraine, a surprise on the podium. His three previous podiums have all come in individual competitions, which are double the length and have a one-minute penalty for shooting instead of a penalty loop.
“I hope it’s not the last podium of the season,” he said. “It was a big surprise for me and I think it was the biggest surprise so far for everyone. Many fans know I’m good in individual but the sprint is not my best venue. From this moment I think everything is possible. Today I was thinking only about the shooting because in the mixed relay I had one not necessary miss because of shooting fast. So today I was a little bit more slow, but my goal was to shoot zero. I hope I can repeat it tomorrow.”
All three athletes had clean shooting. Semenov charged to the line, but came up just half a second short of displacing Bjørndalen. He did, however, bump down Johannes Thingnes Bø, keeping the home team to one man on the podium.
Bø finished fourth, +35.5, and Dominik Windisch of Italy fifth, +39.5. Evgeniy Garanichev of Russia rounded out the flower ceremony in sixth, +40.4.
Simon Schempp of Germany had a chance to figure into the race, but blundered in the finish, planting a pole between his skis and crashing just a few dozen meters from the line. He ended up eighth, +43.8.
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.